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Multimedia Answers: How to transfer your LPs, VHS onto CD, DVD

Thursday, August 29, 2002

By Don Lindich

Q: There is a whole bunch of folks who have LPs that they would like to transfer onto new formats like MP3 or hard drives. They also have VHS video of their families that is starting to degrade due to its age. How can we convert VHS to DVD, and vinyl to CD? I assume that there is a price point beyond which it isn't cost-effective to transfer your own VHS, but there are commercial outfits which will do it for you.

-- Conrad Koch

A: The easiest route to take in both cases is by purchasing components to insert into your existing audio/video system. To put your records on CD, you can purchase a CD recorder for $199 and up. If you think of the CD recorder as the equivalent of a cassette deck that records on CDs rather than cassettes, you will have the right idea. Using a component won't allow you to record your records as MP3s, but it provides the best sound quality, and the CDs will play in almost any CD player.

To convert VHS to DVD, a DVD recorder similar to the CD recorder can be purchased. This recorder also will play CDs and DVDs, but oddly enough none of the DVD recorders currently on the market can record CDs as well. To dub from VHS to DVD, simply plug the outputs from your VCR into the DVD recorder's inputs, press play, and press record on the DVD recorder. Up to six hours can be recorded on a blank DVD-R, but the best quality is obtained at the two- and four- hour settings. You also can use the DVD recorder to tape programs off the air, and if you purchase a DVD-RW disc you can record your favorite TV programs -- record over and over on the same disc, similar to a Tivo machine but with less capacity. DVD recorders currently sell for $500 and up.

To convert your LPs to CD using your computer, you must run a line from your receiver's "tape out" to an audio input on your computer. This audio input can be an RCA connector attached to your microphone input (lower quality) or a dedicated converter purchased separately (better sound quality). You must run the line from your receiver because the record player's cartridge produces very low voltage.

The receiver amplifies it so the computer can "see" it. You then record the LPs on your hard drive for use as MP3s or full-quality CDs, and various audio editing programs allow you to modify and edit the recordings as you see fit.

Taking VHS video and converting to DVD requires a computer with a DVD burner and an audio/video input or converter. It's a lot of work converting VHS to DVD on a computer, and the discs you burn may not work on all DVD players as the format is new and compatibility problems are plentiful at this point.

Because of this, and since the cost of the converter, software and DVD burner would cost much more than buying a stand-alone DVD recorder, this probably isn't your best option.

Based on your letter, I'd stick with the components and avoid using the computer.

From a financial standpoint, buy the CD recorder now and start copying your records as CD recorder prices have bottomed out. For VHS to DVD conversion, wait six months or so and you should see prices of DVD recorders drop several hundred dollars. Good luck as your preserve your VHS videos and records!

Have questions about audio, video, computers or photography, or need some help using and enjoying what you already own? Don Lindich welcomes your questions and will be answering them in this column. E-mail him at donlindich@mac.com.

Click here for an archive of previous Interact articles

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